Where HBC's strategy went wrong
A former senior official with one of Canada’s largest pension plans defended Hudson’s Bay Co. Executive Chairman Richard Baker’s attempt to take the iconic retailer private, saying criticism that Baker was doing this for his financial benefit is just “Canadian negativity.”
Geoff Barratt, former director of relationship investing at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, who helped HBC with some its biggest purchases, told BNN Bloomberg it was “completely unfair” to assume Baker is only seeking to enrich himself with the proposal.
“Richard [Baker] is a shareholder, in line with common shareholders. I think his net worth goes up and down with the share price,” Barratt said in a television interview on Tuesday.
Barratt added that he thinks Baker obviously wanted to make HBC’s international expansion successful.
“My knowledge of him as a person is he is a pleaser, he wants to show a high stock price. Canadians can be pretty negative, and I think that’s Canadian negativity, frankly,” Barratt said, referring to critics who argue Baker has done deals to enrich himself, rather than all public shareholders.
Barratt’s comments come after Baker announced on Monday that he is leading a group seeking to privatize the struggling retailer. The proposal was conditional on HBC closing European asset sales that were announced the same day.
Baker spearheaded the purchase of HBC in 2008 as a building block in his private equity firm’s real estate and retail empire. Over the years, he has faced criticism over his pay package and HBC’s strategy as sales slumped and the stock price dwindled.
Earlier this year, Baker increased his holding in the company by buying Ontario Teachers’ stake in HBC at a 29 per cent premium.
When asked what he thought would happen to HBC’s stores in Canada, Barratt said he thinks the chain is “healthy,” but there is uncertainty about its future.
“I think Hudson’s Bay itself is fine. Whether Richard [Baker] keeps that for a long period of time, or sells it to somebody else that, maybe, is as strategic, we won’t know,” Barratt said.